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Ffordd Pen Llech: The World’s New Steepest Street

A sleepy little seaside community in northwest Wales will soon find itself swamped by tourists. Just a few days ago, the Guinness World Records awarded the title of “the steepest street in the world” to a short winding thoroughfare in Harlech, a town of 1,400 residents, located within the Snowdonia National Park. The title was previously held by Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The road named Ffordd Pen Llech is one of two roads surrounding Harlech Castle, the town’s other important site—a 13th century castle sitting atop a spur of rock close to the Irish Sea. The road descends up the rock spur linking the higher town center with the railway station close to the sea level. The climb is 330 meters long with an elevation again of 50 meters, which brings the average gradient to only 15 percent, but sections of the street measure an impressive 37.5 percent, or 2.5 percent more than Baldwin Street in Dunedin.

Ffordd Pen Llech

Ffordd Pen Llech on Google Street View.

Ffordd Pen Llech is so steep that vehicles are banned from driving up some parts for the sake of safety. To avoid problems with vehicles coming from opposite directions and meeting on the slope and being unable to restart, the northern half is made a one-way street with traffic going downwards.

The person responsible for snatching the title away from New Zealand and bringing it to Wales was local resident Gwyn Headley, who was convinced the winding street of Ffordd Pen Llech had a steeper incline after his 4-wheel-drive skid down the road for about six feet with all four wheels locked.

When Headley went online to investigate, he was surprised to learn that Ffordd Pen Llech had a steeper incline than Baldwin Street of Dunedin, which was recognized as the steepest street in the world. Headley felt impulsed to rectify the error, for the sake of the community.

Baldwin Street

Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, was the previous title holder. Photo credit: Krzysztof Belczyński/Flickr

However, the new attention could come at a price. When Baldwin Street was named the steepest street in the world it was swarmed by tourists who destroyed property and trampled on gardens of the street’s residents. Busloads of tourists would arrive, stop in the middle of the road to take photos and block access to the street. The town had to install a public toilet at the cost of $90,000 after visitors started using the facilities in homes and businesses.

The Dunedin City Council is now exploring ways by which it could reclaim the title, such as resurfacing the road to achieve a steeper gradient, but it also be as simple as altering the wording from the world's steepest street to the steepest street of the southern hemisphere.

I feel sorry for the residents of Dunedin, because having explored the entire Ffordd Pen Llech on Google Street View, my impression was that Ffordd Pen Llech was more of lane up a hill—winding, narrow, and flanked on one or both sides by thick vegetation. It doesn’t qualify as a street. Baldwin Street, on the other hand, is a proper street, in the middle of the city and used for vehicular traffic. The new awarding is not justified.

Ffordd Pen Llech

Does this look like a street to you?

Ffordd Pen Llech

Ffordd Pen Llech

Ffordd Pen Llech

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